Going Gray

For years, I debated about the pros and cons of letting my hair grow out to its natural color. I wasn’t even quite sure what that color was anymore. Like many women, I started dying my hair in my 30s (red, if you must know). I had no idea what color was under my current ‘do. The specter of going gray was fraught with conflict and I knew a change would require patience and some re-branding. Was I ready for that?

How to begin

My marketing background pointed me in a logical direction—first, do some research. I conducted a survey of my closest inner circle. Most people shied away from giving me advice. They didn’t want the tremendous responsibility of guiding me toward a possible disaster. I heard more than one hearty, “No! You’re too young.” The best advice I received was, “Only you can make that decision.” This was from a friend who always has my best interests at heart.

OK, so I made the decision. Through my generous network (Circles of Gold®) I found a hair stylist who would work with me through the stages of growing out the color. After a succession of adding highlights and low lights, then less and less, my natural hair color has revealed itself. I still have more brown than I thought I’d have, and there’s a soft silver throughout that makes me fondly think of my mom.

Why such a drastic move?

Here were my reasons for going gray:
• If I took all the money I’ve sunk into the chemicals on my head and invested that tidy sum into a mutual fund, I’d be… richer. That money can now go toward a fabulous cut and my SEP-IRA.
• The current administration, beginning with the last presidential election, gave me the impulse to cut off all my hair and run around the city howling. I remember the urge on Nov. 9, 2016, to hack it all off like a widow, rending her clothes in sorrow. My friend Karen Halvorsen-Schreck, a writer with gorgeous curls, let her hair grow gray in protest. Inspired by Karen, my anger made me brave.
• The National Speakers Association—my professional association of choice—is brimming with colleagues who admonish us to “be authentic.” For me, that meant letting my hair catch up with my status as a woman of wisdom. No judgement re: my sisters-in-speaking who opt for fake eyelashes and stilettos well into their 70s. I believe in the You-Be-You campaign. I just got clearer about who I am and how to live in my own skin.

My friend Janie Gabbett once told me a hilarious story about tinting her hair to get through the transition from black to (prematurely) white hair. The details are fuzzy but they included attending a correspondents’ dinner in Washington, D.C., getting caught in the rain and sitting next to then-First Lady Laura Bush on a dias. According to Janie, her hair color, diluted by the rain, provided quite a spectacle on national TV. Janie, forgive me if I’ve blurred the storyline, but I’m still laughing at your account of the dramatic debut of your current gorgeous color those many years ago.

Personal and political

We live in a culture that worships youth, sending conflicting messages to women about using our sexuality as an advantage while also building skills to protect ourselves from abuse. In this #MeToo era, we may need to see and accept ourselves in a new light, one that shines like silver. For me, this bold decision to go gray was both personal and political, both powerful and graceful as I step into the next stage of my life. Whatever that stage may hold, I embrace it with a toss of my silver mane. May your next hair stage feel like freedom and may it embolden you to the life you are meant to live.

[Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash]

A Seat at the Table

Years ago I was a cub reporter for a daily newspaper in Oklahoma, covering the health care beat. As part of my responsibilities I attended the board meetings of the local United Way, a group comprised of business leaders from around town. These experienced and mature business folks would meet monthly in a large board room around a big, shiny table. As the reporter covering the meeting I would sit in a chair against the wall, taking notes.

One day during a meeting a question came up about another local business leader who had changed jobs. Where had he gone? someone asked, and there was some speculation about where he now worked. I knew the gentleman they were referring to so I blurted out the answer from my chair against the wall. The conversation stopped and heads swiveled toward me as if I suddenly appeared from the ether or uttered an expletive into the air. I blushed deeply and understood for the first time that as a reporter, I was there only to observe and not to participate.

Something in me shifted–you could even say, crackled. I knew in that moment that this job as a reporter was a bad fit for me. I needed to be in a job where I had an active, vital role, where my voice could be heard, valued and acknowledged. In short, I needed a seat at the table.

I just finished reading a book called The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance–What Women Should Know by New York Times bestselling authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. [Full disclosure: I “read” the book while driving, listening to the audio version on CD.] This book contains startling details about our gender’s collective lack of confidence, some genetic, some learned, along with amazing insights from high-level business women as impressive as Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as basketball stars from the WNBA. Propped up by the results of studies from social scientists, deep research and a broad range of interviews, the book provides guidelines for women to actively exercise their confidence skills. Somewhere in the book they admonish us as women to take our seats at the table, to participate and be heard.

While The Confidence Code is written for women, it’s a good reminder to all of us–women and men–that in order to make a difference we have to communicate our point-of-view. I learned that lesson long ago in that boardroom in Lawton, OK. Before long I quit my job as a reporter and jumped into the business world as a communications professional, moving from spectator to an on-the-court participant. Now I’m thrilled to be in a role where I can express myself and influence others through the written and spoken word. I’ve not only found my seat at the table but in my role as a board member I’ve even found myself at the head of the table!

Where are you? Are you seated against the wall, observing, or have you taken your rightful place at the table?

[Photo: Boardroom table at OfficeLinks, my Chicago office in the Willis (Formerly-Known-as-Sears) Tower]